As I concluded my time in Washington D.C. this week, I was impressed to see the following statement released by the White House. First, it quotes Vice-President Biden:
Freedom from sexual assault is a basic human right. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman for any reason — any reason — other than self-defense. He knows that a nation’s decency is in large part measured by how it responds to violence against women. He knows that our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober, no man has a right to go beyond the word “No”. And if she can’t consent, it also means no. That too makes it a crime.
President Obama then went on to say:
It’s about all of us — our moms, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, our sons. Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And for survivors, the awful pain can take years, even decades to heal. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime. And wherever it occurs — whether it’s in our neighborhoods or on our college campuses, our military bases or our tribal lands — it has to matter to all of us. ….
So sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities. And that’s why we’re here today — because we have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice. …
Today, we’re taking another important step with a focus on our college campuses. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5. These young women worked so hard just to get into college, often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it. So when they finally make it there only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families, it’s an affront to everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve. It’s totally unacceptable. …
My hope and intention is, is that every college president who has not personally been thinking about this is going to hear about this report and is going to go out and figure out who is in charge on their campus of responding properly, and what are the best practices, and are we doing everything that we should be doing. And if you’re not doing that right now, I want the students at the school to ask the president what he is doing or she is doing. And perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone. You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.
I applaud the president and vice-president for taking on this crucial issue. In a blog over the summer I wrote that “violence of any kind has no place on our campus, and sexual violence is particularly pernicious in that it plays on social stereotypes and traditions of exclusion. We applaud groups active across the country, like Know Your IX, which are calling on students to stand up for their right to study in environments free from discrimination, harassment and violence. This work is perfectly in accord with our mission to promote progressive liberal arts education for all.”
I know that we can constantly improve our practices and policies for dealing with sexual violence on campus, including violence against gay, lesbian and trans students. We do this not out of an effort to appear to have the correct politics or to avoid bad press and law suits. We do this, as I’ve said before, because freedom from gender and sexual violence is essential to our mission as a community of learning. An inclusive learning community is one free of violence, and that’s the kind of community all of us — students, faculty and staff — work to build at Wesleyan.
The Obama administration is right to call attention to this vital issue. If anyone at Wesleyan has ideas about things we can do better in this area, please let me know. By eradicating sexual violence, together we can make our campus more inclusive and equitable.